Who won the debate?

Give Whitman points for style, Brown for content

Who won the debate between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown Tuesday evening? More to the point, did it change anybody’s mind? Did it give the 20 percent of voters who haven’t decided enough to go on?

Probably not. Personally, I give Whitman a slight edge on style, if only for doing better than expected. She was poised and showed she could think on her feet, even if she tended to fall back on talking points. And I give Brown the edge on content. Whitman’s core Republican positions will not solve California’s problems.

Certainly the candidates provide a distinct choice. Brown was his usual crusty, improvisational self and, once he got warmed up, self-deprecatingly funny. I especially liked his response when asked if he would seek higher office, as he did during his first two terms as governor.

“Hell, if I was younger, you know I’d be running again,” he replied. “But I’d say at 74, whatever it’s going to be in a couple of years, I’m ready. One more thing: I now have a wife. And I come home at night. I don’t try to close down the bars of Sacramento like I used to when I was governor of California.”

Whitman was impressively cool and collected, like someone who’d been coached well. But it wasn’t at all clear to me that she understood how Sacramento works, or how the chances of getting her way there will be less than zero. (Cf. Arnold Schwarzenegger.) Brown is right that the tank is full of sharks.

Well, they’ve broken the ice. I’m looking forward to Saturday’s (Oct. 1) second debate.

Mining disaster: I first wrote about the New Era Mine back in March 2008. It was a long-dormant gold dig east of Butte College that, with the infusion of buckets of cash, had taken on new life. I reported, among other things, that the president of the company that had taken over operations—North Continent Land & Timber—had served time in jail for financial crimes.

That information had no apparent impact on the three men then on the Board of Supervisors—Bill Connelly, Kim Yamaguchi and Curt Josiassen—who blithely voted to allow the mine to continue operating, based on an outdated 1981 permit, and declined to require an environmental-impact review.

Neighbors of the mine sued, and last October Judge Stephen Benson ruled that the county had approved the mine illegally and ordered it shut down.

This week, as noted in a Downstroke brief in this issue (“More money down mine hole”), the county had to come up with another $70,000 because site reclamation will cost more than North Continent’s assurance bond provided. And County Counsel Bruce Alpert told me there was no chance that the county would ever recover the tens of thousands of dollars it spent defending the company in court.

From what I can tell, North Continent took a lot of gold-bearing sand out of that mine in the nearly two years it operated. Where’d the money go?